The Texas Supreme Court recently approved a set of pro se divorce forms for indigent couples who have no minor children or real property. The forms should make it easier for indigent couples to get divorced without legal representation, but there is concern among the Family Law Bar that divorcing couples who don’t fit the intended profile will use the forms to their detriment.
To be sure, there is substantial demand for such forms. According to the Supreme Court’s order:
Nearly 58,000 family law cases were filed pro se in Texas in the 2011 fiscal year, more than one-fifth of total family law case filings. Even if every one of the 4400 members of the Family Law Section were to take on one of these cases pro bono annually, tens of thousands of litigants would remain unserved each year.
As Justice Debra Lehrmann pointed out in her dissent, however, the forms have a potential downside.
[E]nding a marriage is an emotional, often devastating process, and there are many other instances where a party may not be in a position to assess the long-range, practical implications of a divorce. In some cases, one spouse may simply be unaware of community property acquired by the other spouse that would otherwise be weighed in arriving at a just and fair division of the couple’s property.
At Orsinger Nelson, we believe there are definitely times-such as those envisioned by the Court-when a couple can get divorced without the services of a lawyer. However, we remain concerned that some divorcing spouses, particularly those who have no access to information about the couple’s assets or who are the victims of physical or emotional abuse, could be harmed if they take the pro se route when they should have sought counsel who might have protected their interests.
Our firm has a robust dedication to providing pro bono legal services to indigent couples in need of representation in their divorce. However, as the Court noted, there are too few qualified family lawyers to meet the needs of indigent litigants.
The pro se forms approved by the Court are definitely an imperfect solution, but we live in an imperfect world. We nevertheless counsel anybody considering a pro se divorce to do so with great trepidation. Hiring a lawyer who can protect your interests is always preferable to going it alone.